Though the recent shuttering of Megaupload and the shakeup of the cyberlocker scene has sent shockwaves through various piracy scenes, in the big picture the upheaval is really just the latest in what has been a steady evolution of piracy over the last 20-plus years.
Pirates have a long history of adapting and evolving to respond to new threats and challenges. Whether it’s a matter of adapting an existing system or creating an entirely new one, where there has been a will to obtain illegal copies of files, there’s been a way.
But while the old means haven’t truly died off, people still buy bootleg DVDs and trade files on Usenet after all, the new methods become more popular and become the focus of both pirates and anti-pirates alike. But these changes do more than provide new ways to access the same files, they actually change the nature of piracy and how people approach it. This, in turn, changes how it affects content creators and how, if they choose, they fight it.
While the potential impacts are literally too many to count, here are five of the bigger changes in piracy and what they likely mean for you.
1. Long Tail Piracy is Growing
With traditional P2P networks and Bittorrent trackers, one of the limitations was that there had to be some pretty significant interest in a work before piracy of it was practical. If there wasn’t at least a certain number of people interested in sharing the file, you probably couldn’t find it. As such, for a creator, piracy was almost a good problem to have as it was a sign of popularity.
However, with the shift to cyberlockers, it’s practical to share fies with much less interest. A link on a cyberlocker site can just as easily be downloaded by one person as a million.
The Impact: Niche content that often escaped being traded illegally online is now being swapped freely. Smaller and niche content creators need to look harder at piracy issues and decide if and how they want to respond.
2. Moving Away from the U.S.
Though the U.S. certainly hasn’t had the most piracy-friendly laws for services hosted in it, it’s domains (.com, .net and .org) have been popular among pirates and U.S. hosts, noted for being cheap, reliable and close to the bulk of the target audience, have been favorites among such sites.
However, the recent domain seizures and the shuttering of Megaupload has pirates rethinking this. Not only has The Pirate Bay moved to a .se domain, but other sites are bailing out of the country. New ones are less likely to start up within it.
The Impact: Most of the world has a reasonably strong notice and takedown system and, as the recent seizure of ex.ua in Ukraine shows, there aren’t too many true safe havens for pirates in the world. However, enforcing copyright may become more difficult, especially with sites that move into unfriendly territory. Regardless, it’s going to require becoming more familiar with working within a greater number of countries.
3. Appearance of Legitimacy
Pirate-friendly sites have routinely made claims that they are “just like Google” or other legitimate services. However, such sites have made a greater effort in recent months and years to promote this image, claiming to comply with DMCA notices, even when they don’t (as with Megaupload) and put on a more “corporate” face.
Much of this is in hopes of keeping law enforcement and attorneys at bay, but it’s also part of an effort to appeal to other businesses and consumers to secure advertisers and direct payments.
The Impact: This can create a sense of confusion among some consumers, who at least at times, think that the services are legitimate. Though someone who visits The Pirate Bay isn’t likely a lost customer, someone who Googles for a product and forks money over to a cyberlocker site for an illegal download may well be.
4. Spam, Spam and More Spam
Though spammers have always targeted pirate-related keywords and continue to do so, those efforts seem to have been accelerated in recent months or years as various services use spam keywords to target almost any work you would want to download.
If you search for a work in Google the results are going to be cluttered with fake “download” results that do any number of unscrupulous things including tricking customers to pay for a file that isn’t there, obtain information for identity theft or simply cram more spam advertisements at the viewer.
The Impact: This, in some part, mitigates the first and third changes. Finding pirated content is harder, especially on long tail items, because of these spam results. While the unethical and illegal things they do certainly don’t justify it, this is possibly the only time spammers have ever helped legitimate content creators.
5. Mirrored Uploading/Multiuploading
Finally, one trend that has been growing in recent years is the increased use of tools that automatically upload one file to multiple services. With these tools, one user can upload one file and have it appear on a dozen or more cyberlocker services.
While these tools aren’t new and have been popular in some circles for a long time, many hubs are starting to demand their usage to improve reliable access to files and their use among pirates is likely to grow.
The Impact: Obviously, this is going to make it much more difficult to remove works from the Web. Rather than dealing with one infringing copy, you may be dealing with a dozen or more. This means more work and, in some cases, more expense.
On one hand, the future when dealing with piracy seems pretty bleak. Pirates are targeting different types of works and doing so in ways that is more difficult to stop. However, there are also reasons to be hopeful. Not only do the techniques for removing content remain, overall, fairly effective but new business models are being created by legitimate companies that may help compete with piracy and deal it a stronger blow.
All in all, these steps are just the next evolution in piracy and it’s an evolution that’s been going on for a long as there have been copyrighted works.
Piracy has been a part of being a content creator since day one and it isn’t going to go away. However, with time and effort, it may become more of a nuisance than a major concern and that, in the long run, should be the end goal. Not the elimination of piracy, but the mitigation of it.
Pirate Flag Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto.com